This week I’m cutting off the stalks, called “scapes”, from half of my hard neck garlic crop. In his book Growing Great Garlic author Ron Engeland recommends we leave stalks on storage garlic until just a few days before harvest, because his garlic lasts longer in storage when the scapes are allowed to stay on longer. The bulb doesn’t grow as large but lasts longer, so his compromise is to cut them off as late as possible. His theory is that the plant sends hormones down to the bulb from the developing stalk, preparing the bulb to last through winter, and when the stalk is cut too early it prevents this hormone from reaching the bulb in the ground.
I had meant to cut half of my garlic off sooner than now so they’d develop larger bulbs that we’d eat first, but we’ve been so busy moving our household to this larger property that I’ve fallen far behind in my garden to do list. Fortunately, the weather is cooperating this year and summer has arrived about two and a half weeks late, which allows me a little time to catch up.
After I cut the scapes, I dig up one plant each day, checking for root rot because this disease travels quickly and can infect the whole lot in a matter of days. If there’s no root rot, I’ll dig them up about a week after cutting the scapes, endeavoring to have them out before the bulbs split and won’t store as long. Engeland says garlic will be ready to harvest when they still have six green leaves to ensure that the bulbs have enough wrappers to protect them in storage. Dig them up, shake off the soil and put them in a dry place in the shade to cure for a few days.
I like to bundle my garlic in groups of 10 so I can see at a glance how many I have. Ideal storage conditions are in a dark, dry area with a humidity level between 45 per cent and 60 per cent and a temperature between 11 and 21 C. Engeland leaves roots on in storage but I’ve found it too messy, so this year I’m trimming the roots to within ¼ inch of the bulb and brushing gently with a toothbrush to remove dirt before storage. Since I haven’t had to water this year and the soil is quite dry, so is the garlic, making it easy to process.
I still had bulbs left over from last year so I sliced them, dried them in the dehydrator and blended that into a powder. David says store bought garlic powder doesn’t compare to mine, so it was worth the effort (drum roll please). I’ll save the best ones from the present crop to re-plant this coming October. There are some good recipes to use for scapes that have been cut off early, but mine are so mature that they’re tough and good only for compost.
On a positive note, perhaps garlic based compost will attract escargot rather than mere slugs. The wise farmer is always ready to try a new cash crop.